A black president

Barack Obama will be America's first black president. The importance of that to this nation would be difficult to overstate.

Those old enough to remember the days of "whites only" and "colored" drinking fountains; dogs and fire hoses turned on civil rights demonstrators; "separate but equal;" lynchings and Klan marches ... those who never dreamed they would live to see an African-American nominated by either major political party -- much less elected president -- now have witnessed that very thing.

Those young enough to regard skin color as of no more consequence than hair or eye color, those born long after the civil rights struggles of last century, those who represent the vanguards of hope for a post-racial America ... those people have witnessed the initial realization of that vision in the election of Obama.

Those who feared that America's promise of equal opportunity, its practice of tolerance and decency, and its disregard for prejudice had been reduced to empty slogans ... those people saw their faith renewed in the election of Obama.

His election was the fulfillment of a civic virtue that begins to counterbalance some of the evil spawned by racial hatred throughout our nation's history. It begins to wash away America's original sin.

But, oddly enough, this campaign, this election wasn't really much about race at all. Race never was promoted by Obama as a reason to support him. Likewise, Obama's race was rarely exploited as a weapon against him by his opponents, and never overtly.

Certainly there were those who voted against Obama solely because he is an African-American. Surely, some of the expressed suspicion about his middle name, about his religious beliefs, about his "otherness" was a stand-in for racial bias.

But that was no surprise. The real surprise is how little race mattered in this election. There was no discernible "Bradley effect," the secret contempt for a black candidate exercised in the privacy of the voting booth.

Obama attracted the support of about 95 percent of black voters. But he also won a higher percentage of the overall white vote than Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. And he won a significantly higher percentage of the vote by white women and whites with college degrees, a group that had been solidly Republican in recent elections.

Obama won by firing up young voters, registering new voters, energizing black voters. He won by appealing to those in all demographics. A higher percentage of those polled after the election said they were more likely to vote for him because he is black than those who said they were less likely to support him for that reason.

This election represents a monumental change that, by its nature, is irreversible. Now that a black man has been elected president, now that we, as a nation, have ground the taboo into dust, there's no going back. Forevermore, anyone born in America will know that race no longer is an insurmountable obstacle to the highest level of achievement in this country.

No matter who one might have voted for Tuesday, that is something to celebrate.

Election of Obama represents a new starting point in nation's history of race relations.